The Quantified Cow: The Internet of Things for the Dairy Industry

The future is here. We’ve all heard about the Internet of Things, another buzz word circulating the tech community recently. Although technically in existence for more than two decades, the Internet of Things movement has gained greater momentum in the last few years—most notably stepping into a bigger spotlight with Google’s $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs, a home device company responsible for the best-selling Nest thermostat. By keeping track of manually inputted temperature settings and surrounding environmental data like room humidity and lighting, Nest eventually collects enough data to learn the daily behavior and preferences of the residents in the home.

These ideas tie into the concept of the Quantified Self, the movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life. Things like daily food consumption, quality of surrounding air, blood oxygen levels, physical and mental performance, and even mood and arousal can be tracked, measured and analyzed—all in the name of improving daily functions and making better decisions (or maybe just nodding thoughtfully at the data instead).

Milking the Benefits in the Dairy Industry

So how does the Quantified Self and the Internet of Things fit with cows, pastures, farmers and milk? Three words: robotic milking machines. Dutch company Lely, self-proclaimed innovators in agriculture, created the Astronaut A4, a state-of-the-art “fully automated milk harvester.” Although the robotic milking machine will set you back about $200,000, the Lely Astronaut A4 collects a large range of cow data to help dairy farmers make better decisions regarding milk production and herd management.

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The A4 keeps track of each individual cow’s feeding and health history, preventing cows from sneaking back into the machine for more food if they return too close to their last visit. The system tracks different variables on each cow as it’s being milked: its weight, milk production, time required for milking, amount of feed eaten, and how long the cow chews on its cud. If there’s a health issue with one of the herd, farmers can isolate the problem right away. The machine collects data on the milk itself too, checking the color fat and protein content, temperature, somatic cell count and overall quality.

Equipped with access to more data, dairy farmers are able to gain greater knowledge into their industry and thus maximize outputs. All of this data have translated to better decision-making for the farmers, better quality control of milk production and generally happier cows—and who doesn’t want happy cows? Having a machine do the work allows farmers to focus their energy elsewhere too, freeing up time for really anything else. The trend is clear: as the technology continues to get better, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more quantifiable and actionable data. Quantified Self, the movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of not only a person’s daily life, but a cow’s daily life as well.



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